In an exclusive interview with Desi Talk, child actor Sunny Pawar speaks about his film “Lion”, his aspirations for the future and his experiences in the United States.
Coming to America, the glittering premieres and the never-ending media interviews have taken a toll on Sunny Pawar, but a little pep-talk from his father and the eight-year-old is back with his infectious smile.
“This is all good fun,” Pawar says. “But my head is spinning a little,” he admits, saying that all this fanfare and attention is wearing him down.
Dressed in cream-color T-shirt-sweatshirt and blue jeans, the diminutive Pawar exudes confidence as he settles in a chair for the interview at the NY 1 studios in Chelsea. “It’s so cold here,” he says in Hindi, explaining that English is not his forte. “But I’m learning English and have improved quite a lot,” he says, with a smile.
But mention the word acting, and Pawar lights up. “I want to do lots and lots of acting in movies,” he says. “I want to continue acting along with my studies,” he’s quick to add.
After making his debut in “Lion,” Pawar already has a second film – “Hello Sonia” – starring Demi Moore, under his belt.
“Lion” is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family at the age of five when he accidentally boarded the wrong train in rural India. Unable to remember his hometown or his mother’s name, Saroo is placed in an orphanage, adopted by an Australian family and taken to live in the southern island state of Tasmania. More than 20 years later he uses the Google Earth map tool to try to find his home in India.
Coming from a disadvantaged background in Mumbai, Pawar’s life has changed dramatically ever since he was cast in “Lion” at the age of six. Almost two years later the Mumbai native is on his maiden trip to the United States, where along with promoting the film and interviews and red carpets, sight-seeing has been on top of the agenda as and when time permits. “We visited the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Disneyland,” he says.
Pawar’s discovery could be attributed to his talent, of course. But being at the right place at the right time made a big difference, his father, Dilip Pawar, says, adding that his son was a natural mimic at home although he never had serious acting dreams or training. “For fun, he’d watch the television and ape the songs while dancing at home,” the senior Pawar says.
When “Lion” director Garth Davis put out an India-wide casting call; Pawar was one of 2,000 children short-listed for the role of Saroo. When Pawar made the top 100, he met Davis. “This was the kid I dreamed about in the story,” Davis earlier told The Wall Street Journal. “It was like I had already met him.”
Pawar’s natural gift for acting was further honed in by Davis and in what seems like an effortless and flawless performance, Pawar single-handedly dominates the film’s first hour as a boy from a working-class family in a small Indian village and slum, who gets separated from his older brother at a train station. The adult Saroo is played by Dev Patel.
“He achieved the impossible,” Pawar said, speaking of Saroo’s inspiring story. “He gives me hope and strength.”
Pawar filmed the movie alongside Nicole Kidman and said he bonded closely with Dev Patel. “We talked and played and then we became friends”, he said of his relationship with Patel.
A World Apart
Pawar’s past few months have been like a dream, his translator Rahul, who did not give his last name, says. Pawar and his father have been living in a dream world, with a whirl-wind of activities, hob-knobbing with celebrities and signing autographs and posing for pictures. But the irony of this, Rahul notes, is the fact that Pawar cannot fathom the impact or the magnitude of this adulation and exposure. He is not aware of the Hollywood A-listers he has been hanging out with here, Rahul, a Mumbai native, notes. “Lion” isn’t just Pawar’s first movie role, but it’s also the first English movie he has ever seen, says Rahul.
Even Pawar’s father is in awe of the love his son has been receiving. “We knew it was a movie, but did not know that it would become so big,” Dilip Pawar says.
Talking about his experiences on the sets of “Lion,” Pawar says he had the most fun shooting the running scenes and what he calls the “train scene,” which is the dramatic moment when Saroo gets stuck on the passenger car. He loves acting and loves dancing to the Sia song “Never Give Up.”
A fan of Bollywood, Pawar says he’s open to working in Bollywood too. His dream is to play a superhero, particularly the Indian action hero Krrish, a role essayed by Hrithik Roshan. Pawar is also a die-hard fan of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation. He gravitates towards his iPad whenever free to catch a glimpse of his favorite sport. He also catches up on the Hindi cartoon series “Chota Bheem,” which he followed back home in Mumbai.
And although he enjoys all the travel and the attention, he misses home and longs to spend time with his mother and siblings, and eat some home cooked food. “I cannot wait to get home,” Pawar says.